The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." -John 1:43-51
"Samuel did not yet know the Lord..." -1 Sam.3:7
"You have searched me out and known me, you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar." -Psalm 139:1
"Where did you get to know me?" -John 1:48
Jesus drew some people to him with a miraculous catch of fish, others through a healing, and still others when turning water to wine. He drew Nathanael through humor. "Here's an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob." (Guile=Jacob=Israel). But the joke also invokes a deep intimacy, a being "known" that is also irresistible. To this Jesus adds, "I saw you under the fig tree" that is, my Jewish friends tell me, "studying Torah." Already, WE know a lot about Nathanael. Like Jesus, he has a sense of humor, and he loves God.
To me, nothing is more seductive than being known, and nothing more off-putting than being misunderstood. I love this text because if Jesus knows Nathanael so well, perhaps he knows me. But to know Jesus in return, I've got to fend off my propensity to think I know him already (Meditation One) and turn toward that intimate unknowing of pure love (Meditation Two). And to love God and my neighbor, I'd better jolly well get to the task of knowing myself, because the false self eclipses anything true I might know about God and my neighbor (Meditation Three). Ever on the descending and ascending path of knowing and loving, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Knowing and Not Knowing Naropa, an eleventh-century Indian yogi, one day unexpectedly met an old hag on the street. She apparently knew he was one of the greatest Buddhist scholars in India and asked him if he understood the words of the large book he was holding. He said he did, and she laughed and danced with glee. Then she asked him if he understood the meaning of the teachings in that book. Thinking to please her even more, he again said yes. At that point she became enraged, yelling at him that he was a hypocrite and a liar. That encounter changed Naropa's life. He knew she had his number; truthfully, he only understood the words and not the profound inner meaning of all the teachings he could expound so brilliantly.
-Pema Chödrön Three Methods for Working with Uncertainty, Shambhala Sun, March 1997
O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. (1-6) For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them -- they are more than the sand; I come to the end -- I am still with you. (13-18)
-Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Jacob's Ladder, William Blake
detail, The Garden of Eden, Brueghel, Jan the Elder, 1612, birds in a fig tree
Meditation Two (Insight) Unknowing and Loving
Now all rational creatures, angels and men alike, have in them, each one individually, one chief working power, which is called a knowing power, and another chief working power called a loving power; and of these two powers, God, who is the maker of them, is always incomprehensible to the first, the knowing power. But to the second, which is the loving power, he is entirely comprehensible in each one individually; in so much that one loving soul of itself, because of love, would be able to comprehend him who is entirely sufficient, and much more so, without limit, to fill all the souls of men and angels that could ever exist. This is the everlastingly wonderful miracle of love, which shall never have an end.
-The Cloud of Unknowing 14th century chapter iv, ed. James Walsh, SJ
Meditation Three (Integration) Self-knowledge for the Sake of Others
If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion. As for the consequences of such ignorance, these are bad by every criterion, from the utilitarian to the transcendental. Bad because self-ignorance leads to unrealistic behavior and so causes every kind of trouble for everyone concerned; and bad because, without self-knowledge, there can be no true humility, therefore no effective self-naughting, therefore no unitive knowledge of the divine Ground underlying the self and ordinarily eclipsed by it.
-Aldous Huxley 1894-1963 The Perennial Philosophy
The Last Word For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.
-Thérèse of Lisieux 1873-1897
The Intimate Unknown
I was complaining to a friend recently about my frustrations with a loved one, and how I can't seem to communicate the depth of my distress, or how I feel, or what I think, or how this ongoing argument between us affects me all out of proportion to the slight irritant it ought to be.
The wise person listening to me said, “The problem is that you want to be known.”
Yes, that's it! That's the core of every argument, I think. Wanting not only to be heard, but understood. To be known. Especially by one you love. (You'll notice that I'm purposely ignoring knowing and understanding that other person, but, let me just stay on one side for now.)
Nothing is more seductive than the promise of intimacy. The allure of the Christian story – the Incarnation, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit – is that it opens you to a depth of your own soul you never even knew you possessed. This cycle of death and rebirth is your story, and in this story you are known better than you know yourself.
Each of this week's readings involve intimacy. Before Samuel “knows” the Lord, the Lord whispers to him in his bedchamber. Paul says that anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him (I Cor. 6:17) and that our very bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (vs.19). Jesus knows Nathanael's deepest heart.
Also, the lectionary offers that great hymn to intimacy, Psalm 139. “You have searched me out and known me...”
If I long to be known and loved, I don't need to go any farther than that prayer, gently hushing my complaints and putting my longings into perspective. (I'm feeling better now.)